Jordan Stump at Words Without Borders

Our world lit colleagues over at Words Without Borders have published a fantastic interview with translator Jordan Stump, discussing the astonishing things he does with the English language. The focus of this interview is all the acrobatics required to bring Marie NDiaye’s French into English for our own book All My Friends.

And a head’s-up for Stump/NDiaye fans: we will be publishing Jordan’s translation of NDiaye’s completely demented memoir, Self-Portrait in Green, this fall. If you have enjoyed NDiaye in the past, I think it’s safe to say that this book will blow you away. It will be available this fall—keep an eye out, or you can just subscribe to our 2014 offerings right now and watch it float into your awaiting hands, weeks before it reaches store shelves.

But anyway, back to the interview. Here’s a snippet:

KS: Do you find that there are times when the French is unclear, so the English necessarily has to be unclear to preserve some of that oddity or strangeness?

JS: That’s right. The translator’s tendency is always to try to show, “Look, I understand what this means!” and to clarify things. I think that’s a mistake. Confusion, especially with NDiaye, is an important part of the experience of reading. It would be a shame to lose that.

KS: Was NDiaye involved in the translation process?

JS: I always try to get the authors involved because I like talking to them. Particularly with her, I was very eager to get in touch with her. So as I always do, I wrote her some questions about a few things I had uncertainties about. She was helpful—always helpful and interested. Often writers can’t answer my questions because I’m asking questions having to do with things they themselves prefer to leave ambiguous.

KS: You’ve translated a wide range of authors—some very well-known authors like Balzac and Verne as well as some largely unknown authors, at least to English-speaking audiences—so is there a difference for you in the way you approach a very well-known text versus a largely unknown text?

JS: Actually, I don’t think there is. I think it’s possible to simply look at the work and not think about the way the author is seen. Balzac in particular is so dense and so variable that I think it’s entirely safe to say that Americans know him far less well than they imagine. If I choose a text it’s because there is something I would like to show people that I don’t think they’ve seen. Whether it’s by a very famous writer like Verne—whose Mysterious Island was egregiously badly translated before, so people really hadn’t seen it—or by somebody they would never have heard of, in any case there’s something that they haven’t seen that I want to show them and it doesn’t really matter who wrote it.

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